Latin America & Caribbean

Communist Cuba marks Good Friday with public holiday

Pope Benedict XVI arrives at Revolution Square to celebrate a mass in Havana March 28, 2012
Image caption Relations between Cuba and the Catholic church have improved in recent years

Communist Cuba is marking Easter with a public holiday on Good Friday, for the first time in decades.

This follows Pope Benedict's visit to the country last week, where he requested the move.

Religious holidays in Cuba were cancelled after the 1959 revolution, and fewer than 10% of Cubans are practising Catholics.

Nonetheless, the Church is the most influential organisation outside the Communist government.

The Cuban government said it granted the request as a mark of respect, and to commemorate the "transcendental nature" of the pope's visit.

Live service

The Pope's predecessor, John Paul II, made a similar request before the last papal visit to Cuba in 1998, successfully persuading then-leader Fidel Castro to recognise Christmas as a public holiday.

A service at Havana Cathedral will be broadcast live on Cuban television, indicating the improving relations between the Church and the government, says BBC Havana correspondent Sarah Rainsford.

Religious or not, Cubans have welcomed the day off, and hope that the change will be permanent, our correspondent says.

Some described it as a sign that Cuba was opening up to the world.

"I think almost all Cubans think it's a very good idea," one told the BBC.

The holiday has only been declared for this year, but the government says it will take a decision later on whether to make it permanent.

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